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Full text of "My Country And My People"

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LITERARY    LIFE                        249

fare, to be taken down immediately after the occasion. The
theatre was therefore in the open and the actors had to compete
with the peddlers' cries, the barbers* tuning forks, the malt-
sugar sellers' small gongs, the shouting of men, women and
children and the barking of dogs. Above such a din, only a
thin falsetto keyed in a high pitch could have been heard, as
anybody may verify for himself. The gongs and drums were
also used as a means of attracting attention; they always
preceded the plays and could be heard a mile away, thus
serving the purpose of street posters for the movies. When
staged in a modern theatre building, the volume of noise thus
produced is truly terrific, but somehow the Chinese have
adapted themselves to it, as the Americans have adapted them-
selves to jazz. They want noise and they want life to get a
"kick" out of it. Time will erase all this, and Chinese theatrical
shows will eventually be tamed and "civilized" when they are
housed in modern theatre buildings.

From a purely literary point of view, Chinese dramatic
works contain a type of poetry which far surpasses the T'ang
lyrics in power and beauty. It is my firm belief that, lovely as
the T'ang poetry is, we have to go to the dramas and the odd
dramatic songs (hsiaotiao} to find some of China's greatest
poetry. For classical poetry moves more or less along certain
traditional patterns of thought and style. It has a cultivated,
super-refined technique, but it lacks grandeur and power and
richness. The feeling one gets on turning from classical poetry
to poetry in the dramas (and Chinese dramas are essentially
regarded, as has been pointed out, as a collection of poems)
is like turning from an exquisite plum branch in a vase to one's
ontside garden, so much superior in freshness, richness and
variety.

Chinese lyrics are dainty, but never long and never very
powerful. By their very terseness, narrative and descriptive
passages are necessarily limited in character. In the dramas
the scope and style of poetry are different. Words are used
which would have been scoffed at by the court critics as vulgar.
Images arise, and dramatic situations are presented which
call for a wider range of literary power and which dearly would
lie outside the province of the lyric. Human emotions reach a